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May Day and Iranian Women

On May Day, we greet the workers of Iran, especially women worker – teachers, nurses, office workers, rural women, carpet weavers and thousands of Iranian women who work in the informal sector and are not identified in any statistics.

MayDay1
1st of May commemorates the bloody struggle of the US workers in 1886, for reduced working hours and a change to the harsh and cruel working conditions, one that was recognised by the 2nd International conference as the International Workers’ Day in 1889, and has hence been marked in the calendars of countries worldwide. Every year, millions of workers throughout the world celebrate this day, often as a national holiday. However in our country, Iran, for years the regime of the Supreme religious Leader (Velayat-e-Faquih) has prevented its commemoration and by removing its formal designation, only those in state organisations are allowed to commemorate it with the purpose of justifying the regime’s anti-worker policies. However the workers of Iran continue to commemorate this day by issuing declarations and informal gatherings, in the face of threats and being called for questioning by security forces.
This year the first of May is celebrate under conditions in which the regime is preparing

once again for engineered ‘elections’, and is whipping up interest for the elections and to draw the people, at the side, the working class, to the ballot boxes. However the workers, especially women workers, have other immediate concerns: their diminishing purchasing power for basic provisions, as the chasm between their wages and the cost of living widens evermore.
Women, the foremost victims of the neo-liberal policies
Widespread corruption in Iran and the neo-liberal economic policies under different guises such as ‘resistance economics’, targeting subsidies, privatisation and economic liberalisation which follow the World Bank and IMF prescriptions in Iran, are leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. These policies have led to millions of the poor working people being pushed under the poverty line, the purchasing power of thousands of workers, such as teachers and nurses have been lowered evermore. Most women workers are head of household. They suffer the burden of sex discrimination and exploitative policies in the workplace too. Women are the first victims of these destructive Women Sewingpolicies. When businesses and units of production shut down or structural adjustment measures are taken, women are targeted first and are forced to leave the formal labour market and fall into the informal sector with its associated lower pay, outside the reach of any state scrutiny, with ‘zero hours’ contracts and where there is no health and safety at work protection, maternity leave, or job security.
The record of the current president, Hassan Rouhani is not any different from his predecessors, despite the promises of the election period. All his efforts are directed at leaving the current legal and economic frameworks intact. In the words of the former president, Rouhani is nothing more than a ‘preperator’, and he serves the interests of the Supreme Leader and other leaders’ misogynistic worldview. Their ‘worldview’ sees the place of women to be in the home, believes in their removal from the economic, social and political life of the country and makes use of laws and pronouncements to ensure this. Among these measures are the law for the reduction of the number of hours women work, home-working, increase in maternity leave without any guarantee for return to work, the bill for the protection of the family, … which have the appearance of favouring women, but their main purpose is to remove women from the formal workplace and return them to the home.
The sum of these policies have made employment evermore difficult for women, especially women heads of household. The Hassan Rouhani’s Labour Minister admitted a while ago that employers do not employ married women, and that when considering single women, they take written undertakings from them that they will not get married and have children. He said: ‘Today, women’s employment has moved towards becoming seasonal and into the service industry’ (Arman, Feb.2016).
A while ago the Head of the Supreme Centre for Workers’ Trade Associations announced that 4 million workers in clandestine workplaces. According to him these people were mostly employed in sweatshops that produce low quality products illegally (ILNA, Jan 2016). It is possible to say with confidence that the real figures are substantially higher than the one stated above. A large number of women work in domestic labour and enjoy no legal protection, they work long hours with low pay which is paid directly to the agencies and middlemen who take their own cut from their meagre wages. The workers in the service industry, the cleaners are often women. They are constantly under the threat of dismissal in favour of younger workers. The regime’s plans aimed at keeping women at home directly serve the interests of the employers.

Destructive Results of Privatisation
Extensive privatisation and sale of state-owned factories to the private sector have intensified the problem of unemployment and the drop inmeagre family home the value of women’s labour. In the education sector, privatisation has resulted in the twofold pressure on teachers and nurses. At the same time the rise in the cost of living has added to the burden that women workers carry. Zohreh Asadpour wrote in an article titled ‘Women in the trap of the informal sector’: “Even without the privatisations, in Iran, the doors of state sector jobs which are placed at the top of the pay pyramid, were not open to women in any discernible way. The privatisations have practically suspended the Labour Law in the case of women’s employment, by contracting out those fields that are dominated by a female workforce and by the promotion of the private sector to invest in the fields that are traditionally associated with the state sector, such as the education sector which is commonly the destination of women, hence driving women more and more to the informal sector and swelling the ranks in this sector” (Bidar Zani, 3 March 2016).
Capitalism is based on the foundations of access to cheap labour and women’s labour (and children’s) is utilised in the absence of legal safeguards, health insurance, safety regulations and lack of regulation for wages and benefits. At the same time they can be used as a reserve army of labour, used in order to keep the wages down. In addition, the government guarantees the security of capital and the employer by deregulating labour, amendments to the Labour Law and lowering the cost of labour. The removal of workplaces employing fewer than 10 people (where mostly women form the workforce) from the coverage of the Labour Law is one example.

Women Farm workers and Carpet Weavers
In the villages of our country (which form a large proportion of the population’s distribution), women have a significant role in agriculture and the destructive policies of the regime in this area has had a disastrous effect on their lives. The destruction of the country’s traditional crops due to lack of state support, has driven large numbers from rural areas to the periphery of the cities.Women rice workers
Women who work on the farms do not appear in the statistics and do not enjoy legal protection. One woman who works on rice fields and was interviewed by the paper: Vaghaye Etefaghieh (March 2017) said: “Work on rice fields means sickness, each of us have some sort of ailment, everyone suffers from rheumatism and arthritis. We get rheumatism because of the mud and cold water. As the weather gets warm we get rice field fever. Infections affect our feet. Each of us spend half of our pay on medical bills. We do not have health insurance and even for a common cold we have to pay a massive amount”. The report states that according to one of the specialists in social welfare, “the Social Welfare department does not consider itself obligated to insure farm workers”. This department was involved in massive embezzlement of the workers money.
The carpet industry has relied on the labour of women and children traditionally. In this sector too there is no legal protection, such as insurance or pay scale. Often there are no statistics on the sector either. The work of women in the crafts has turned into the main earning of many families, following the stagnation of agriculture, for example in the Province of Sistan and Baluchestan (south-east Iran). According to a report in Shahrvand: ‘In this drought, handicraft is going to replace farming’. Kheirolnesa Amiri, the Head of the Cultural Heritage Office in Nikshahr city declares that the handicraft are the most important offering of the men and women in the region and it must be planned: “We investigated and found that in the drought conditions, the most important industry that has been able to replace farming has been handicraft; such that even now, around 85% of rural households earn their living through: embroidery, needlework and wickerwork. At present 4,000 people are employed in traditional crafts in Nikshahr alone”.women basket weavers
In comparison with massive expenditure on mosques and the headquarters of the clergy, and other bodies associated with the regime, the government has no budget for alleviating the condition of the vulnerable in our country.

Problems that Women face in the labour market are manifold:
• There is a shortage of job opportunities because they are women (due to the laws of segregation etc.)
• They are limited in the choice of jobs.
• The rate of unemployment among women is high.
• Temporary contracts for long term work abound.
• They do not enjoy the minimum wage.
• They have no promotion opportunities.
• Due to low wages and lack of promotion, they face poverty in retirement.
• They have less job security than their male counterparts and work longer hours without overtime pay.
• They are not entitled to unemployment benefit because of the dominance of the type of contract they are forced to enter.
• Single women are preferred to married women.
• Women who work in smaller workplaces do not have social welfare and legal protection.
• Employers get them to enter into exploitative contracts.

Women workers demand:
Women workers have demands in addition to those that they share with their male counterparts such as the demand for the unconditional freedom of the incarcerated workers, the banning of temporary contracts, the revival of trade union rights and an increase in the wages demo bannertaking account of inflation, among others.
Women also have additional demands:
• Women to receive equal pay for equal work;
• An end to sex discrimination in access to jobs;
• A job guarantee for women who take maternity leave, so that they can return to their job following the end of maternity leave;
• The right to choose their clothing;
• Child support to be determined taking the interests of women into account and to be payable to women workers especially heads of household.
• Women’s employment in hard and harmful jobs to be regulated according to international laws and banned accordingly.

May Day greetings to all women workers,

MaZanan 29.04.2017

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